Saturday, 25 March 2017

Gen X Curators With a Responsibility to Build Bridges

The local Methodist circuit Facebook page had an article by Sam Eaton entitled 59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church HaveDropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why” shared on it yesterday. Just after I read it I picked up another article, this time on the BBC, by Lindsey Baker entitled “Whatever happened toGeneration X?” This latter piece is a book review for Tiffanie Darke’s, new offering “Now We Are 40: Whatever Happened to Generation X?” (a book I definitely want to get hold of). I came across these as I was revisiting Jonny Baker’s 2010 text, “Curating Worship”. In my mind there was a thread running through my mind as I read all of these things and that’s what I want to explore, in a rough form here.

The “Whatever happened to Generation X?” article is looking at that generation Douglas Coupland was talking about in his 1991 classic. It’s talking about my generation, the generation which theorists such as Liz Clutterbuck and Monica Janowski identified as the first “missing generation”. We’re the generation to whom those talking in “curating worship” belong and who their alt-worship initiatives were aimed at.

Within Baker’s there was a quote which really struck and resonated with me. She said:
In Darke’s opinion, Generation Xers should be on a mission to provide a “bridge” between millennials and boomers, especially now that it has largely gone from being anti-establishment to being part of it. Generation X can play a healing role and help promote tolerance, is Darke’s message. “We all need to remember what was important in the pre-digital world, and before the toxic smartphone culture.”

As I read and reflected on Curating Worship I had to smile to myself. What was being described as being anti-establishment in that book has indeed largely become part of the establishment within the church. Jonny Baker has his key role with CMS and Michael Volland (not mentioned in the book but part of that whole group is now principal at Ridley). Me, I was somebody on the edge of that whole scene, not involved directly but picking up much of what was going on through Greenbelt and the web. These days I’m a chaplain who’s now reflecting on how in my job I use the skills I learnt back then from this whole genre. I'm also theologically working on how I mix that with what I’ve learnt from chaplaincy studies, contextual theology and the Methodist Church to produce a model of chaplaincy which enables me to engage with mission in a post-Christian culture.

As I read the material on the millennials leaving the church I realise that those of us who are Gen X and have now been absorbed to differing extents into the establishment do have an important role. We have something important to offer, in terms of working as a bridge particularly between people inside and outside the church. We are a generation who can talk two languages and interpret between them. We can listen with empathy and act as mentors. In spaces where the millennials don't yet have a voice we can act as the advocates to have them given a space at the table where they can then heard themselves. 

Friday, 10 March 2017

Flourishing at Newman

I’m currently reading Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice forAmbitious Women by Heather McGregor. It’s a book which is stimulating and helping me think through some important decisions as we prepare to move on in the summer as Karl starts his probationer minister appointment.
Reading chapter one she talks of the importance of qualifications and thinking about where you study. She also says that you should share what has been good about your awarding institution. Thinking about this in light of my own experience I want to explore why I disagree with her regarding the most prestigious is going to be the best.

I’ve recently gone down study wise and done a PG Cert in Chaplaincy and Young People Studies at Newman University. I did this course because I wanted to do a vocational course which gave me some kind of formal accreditation and training as a chaplain.

Now, Newman has an excellent reputation for teaching training and so on but it is fair to say Durham where I did my M Litt has a better overall reputation. However, I have flourished at Newman in a way I didn’t at Durham. Yes, I gained a qualification from both but the confidence and so on she talks about being more important than the qualification itself was definitely developed at Newman in a way it hadn’t been up north.

The reasons for this may be to do with the differences in my personal situation now compared to then but I think it is also that they are very different institutions with different focuses. Durham is a knowledge centered university whilst Newman takes a more holistic view to learning and development. 

The course at Newman allowed me to take my thinking out of the traditional box through a focus on reflective practice. I was able to weave together chaplaincy studies and contextual theology in an imaginative way focused on my own experience. The course involved studying a module on Spirituality and Faith Development in Young People, another on Chaplaincy and doing a placement module (in my case in the chaplaincy where I work). 

The nature of the course is such that you are encouraged to look at what you are doing in light of your own faith tradition. Thus, in studying this I have also had the chance to wrestle with my own faith identity and have gained a much deeper understanding of what it means to me to be a Methodist and think about how this relates to both my view of chaplaincy and my practice. I have found this incredibly useful.

Both are academic but Newman has a more vocational focus than Durham, I think. Now at this point I want to point out the tutors at both were excellent and the standard of teaching at both was extremely high. My supervisors at Durham were absolutely brilliant as were my lectures at Newman. Yet, it was the wider institutional environment which differed for me. Newman provides a more welcoming environment than "the department" in Durham.

The point I am seeking to get across is that the institution which may enable the person to flourish most may not always be the one which has the best reputation overall. The choice of institution has to be right for the person involved. My husband turned down Cambridge University for his undergraduate after getting a place because upon visiting he knew it was not the right place for him to study.

Making this sort of decision can obviously not be taken lightly but I want to encourage you if you make the right decisions it can help you in the long run. 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear Reviewed

Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in The Obama White Houseabout the Future of Faith in America is the new book from Michael Wear. It was the title of the a lecture he recently gave at the University of Birmingham, where he is a Honorary Research Fellow in the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion.

I must admit I was wondering, after the lecture where Wear was clearly jet lagged, what the book would be like. I found it an easy but thought provoking read and not at all the academic text I was perhaps expecting.

This book can be described as part memoir, part political and social analysis and part reflection on Obama. It might be best described as thoughts from a reflective practitioner. 

The relationship between evangelicals, Catholics, staff in the Office of Faith Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships and more secular staff in other parts of the Obama team is examined here from the perspective an insider located in a particular place.

He is an evangelical and by virtue of his Democratic involvement, clearly a more progressive one. He also has a Catholic background coming from an Italian Heritage background. These aspects of identity which he outlines in the book clearly shape his perspective on a range of issues he looks at, particularly those which might be described as moral issues.

As an English reader I found this book useful to highlight where similarities and differences lie between our two cultures and the political and religious landscapes within them. Some like the way in which our welfare system means some of the debates have been dealt with and put to bed for many years (such as on the funding for contraception) are widely known and discussed.

Others like the similarities between the place Obama found himself on with regard to same sex marriage in his initial campaign and where many in the British system are now were enlightening. This latter issue is one where my analysis differs from the conclusions which Wear came from and perhaps also stem from the fact we appear to have different positions on the issue.

For Wear the fact that Obama appears to have had a different personal and professional position on same sex marriage during the first election campaign and part of that candidacy and then appears to reverse it when advocating the legitimacy of same sex marriage is very problematic. It is, he argues, an example of why we might then find ourselves questioning what is said by Obama on other issues. I want to argue that whilst there is some truth in that it is actually emblematic of how many evangelicals (and others) have behaved on this issue. It also illustrates how some of the problems that Bishops in the CofE (following synod’s decision not to take note face).]

If we go back to 2008 there were known to be many people, including some cis het national evangelical leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, who were privately of the view that same sex marriage in monogamous, loving relationships was ok, but none had broken ranks. Publicly, they towed the line they were opposed to these and so Obama was simply taking the standard line. He wasn’t lying as such….rather he was separating his private and public view on it.

Coming back to 2017, this tension between the private and the public view does not hold in the way it did. However, in some groups such as the CofE there has been a tacit approval of this being the way to hold consensus on an apparently controversial issue.
Whilst I don’t agree this is ideal it is why I don’t condemn Obama on this in the way Wear appears to. For those who might fall into this category of having “private” and contradicting “professional” views reading Wear’s analysis may be useful in seeing exactly what the problems with this are.

With regard to the subject of Hope, Wear ends with some thoughts regarding where we have come to. Within this section he talks about how in an increasingly secularised world we have put hope into politics which becomes problematic and turns politics itself into a religion. Within this thinking he gives an indication of how we have reached our current polarised situation with regard to politics and how we might move on from this.

Is this a book I would recommend? The answer is yes as a quite interesting book which can be quickly consumed by somebody with a general interest in politics and or religion. For those who might be looking at this in light of his work at Birmingham University and expecting something meaty, probably not. I enjoyed the book and learnt some things from it but it did not give the depth I hoped it would.